This is the first in a series of letters I will be exchanging with one of my colleagues on a variety of issues.
Last night, during Parent Teacher Conferences, I was sitting across the table from a student of mine and her father. She looks so much like him! He told me how much he works while still always making time to practice math with his girls, and how he came here a year ago from Santo Domingo with his three daughters and, you know, I looked at their faces and I saw my husband with our daughter; I could see the same ambition, dedication and passion for better in their faces.
Reading your letter reminded me of an old song from U2, “Some Days Are Better Than Others.” But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
How do I balance being a new mom and teacher? Am I the same teacher as before? Better? Worse?
Motherhood is a new kind of mirror that has let me see myself as a teacher in new and deeper ways. But balance? Well, if you were to follow me around daily I think you’d see a lack of balance. With that word, I imagine someone serene and calm even in the midst of chaos. That was me in previous years; no matter the burden or inane task, I had a smile on my face.
I’m still smiling but now I am constantly multitasking in ways I honestly didn’t think possible; during preps I pump so my daughter continues to benefit from my milk, and when I’m home feeding her, (we often lay down in bed, thus hands free), I often check my work email or prep for the next day. I live with constant guilt that I am short-changing somebody, usually my daughter. At home, I get about an hour to eat, plan, and sit still until she needs to be put to bed. This means I go to bed too since she won’t sleep without me yet (fine by me since I then get to enjoy being totally present with her).
Notice I say “go to bed” since I don’t get to sleep more than 2-3 hours!
I feel sometimes like I went from being called a colleague’s touchstone to a whirlwind.
Gone are the nights and weekends full of creative chart-making, or innovation, or researching ESL lessons or strategies I might incorporate. Now my commute is where I try to research or blog.
But, despite all that, I do actually feel like I’m a better teacher. Now that I am forced to organize my time well, I don’t waste a single second, and while my heart aches for my daughter and wish I was home with her every moment, I am even more passionate about my profession than I was before.
My memory may have shrunk but my perspective on what I do has expanded.
Having a child has led me to look at myself or my lessons and think, “How would I want someone to teach my daughter this? How would I want her teacher to react over this?”, etc. My passions are much more personal, so in that way they are stronger.
I more clearly see what makes me a unique or effective teacher and what are the things, whether they are personal weaknesses or paperwork, that get in the way of that. (Yet, still, I’m often the one, surprised, saying, “Ohh, huh, that’s true” when someone points out the redundancy or “unnecessary extra” in our ever-growing responsibilities. I guess this camel’s back is unaware of the individual straws).
Also, as I get to know myself as a mother, I’m finding new ways to reflect on myself as a teacher. Like, I guess I’m more holistic than micro-manager. I’m more “she’ll learn how to sleep alone and through the night when she is ready”, rather than “these kids need to know how to XYZ by this preconceived date.” I notice and appreciate the details of the emerging people before me because I’m now experiencing all the amazing things they once learned to do as babies. I am just as passionate about explicitly teaching the skills and knowledge they need to be full participants in society, but I also know how there is a symbiosis between what I teach and what they are ready for. There is research everywhere that can prove almost anything.
It’s funny, because I used to think about this question all the time; other teachers, assuming I had no patience or empathy for my students, always used to say, “Oh, once you have kids, you’ll be a different teacher. You’ll see; you’ll be easier on them.”
Truth is, I believe I have always been very empathetic to their situation as learners in a new country, new language, etc., and I have never tired of having to repeat my words or re-demonstrate something because I know children need repetition. I never expected them to act like mini-adults. Second chances were always available in my room. But to me, this was common sense. Now I see it as the nurturing they still need, and rather than seeing it as a “scaffold”, I see it as a way of life.
So, am I better? Worse? I guess we can say I’m reinventing my concept of “balance”!